The world's largest member of the order Columbiformes is the Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria). Many people have seen these magnificent birds at zoos and were totally unaware that they are true pigeons. They are the size of a hen turkey and look nothing like what most of us think pigeons should look like.
Victoria crowned pigeons are incredibly beautiful in size and plumage. The "crown" or crest feathers on the top of this bird's head first draws people's attention. The crest is made of loose, lacy feathers in royal blue, tipped broadly in white — similar but not exactly like a peacock's tail. These fanlike crests are spectacular. Their long tails give the bird a regal appearance. The body of this pigeon is a bluish dark gray, with lots of metallic sheen in sunlight. The Victoria crowned pigeon's breast is a deep reddish-purple. The wing patch is a light grayish blue, outlined in a dark wine-purple. Eyes are red, or in some individuals a purply red. The bill is very dark gray or even black. As with many pigeon species, the feet and legs are typically purplish red. Both sexes look very much a like, except the adult male is a little larger and brighter than the adult female.
There are three species total (G. victoria, G. cristata and G. scheepmakeri), all native to New Guinea and other nearby islands. Of the three, the Victoria crowned pigeon is more likely to be in private collections and zoos. They are favorites with zoos because they are very docile. The San Diego Zoo has its Victoria crowned pigeons roam free within the zoo.
Victoria Crowned Pigeon Habitat
Native to northern New Guinea, the Victoria crowned pigeon inhabits mainly forested areas along the Siriwo River to the coast. However, habitat destruction due to logging, farming and poaching imperils this species.
In the wild, these pigeons feed on a variety of invertebrates, seeds, fruits and nuts. They are especially fond of wild figs.
In captivity, replicating their diet in the wild is nearly impossible.Many successful zoos and collectors feed them a variety of diced fruits, vegetables, steamed rice, mealworms and pre-softened seeds.
Victoria Crowned Pigeons In The Aviary
Very few have this elegant, gigantic pigeon in their aviaries. This species is extremely rare and expensive, requiring a very large aviary. The Victoria crowned pigeon is not aggressive to people but is downright mean to other large pigeons and large doves. An Victoria crowned pigeon owner in California keeps his Victoria crowned pigeons in a large planted enclosure. He also has several very small African antelopes in the same enclosure — and one of the Victoria crowned pigeons killed one of the antelopes. The pigeon uses its powerful wings to hit what it perceives as a hostile intruder. Tough as this makes them sound, these pigeons are sensitive to cold temperatures and need to be sheltered during the winter. They're fleshy feet are most susceptible to frostbite.
Periodically, I receive a call from someone looking to purchase these unusual pigeons. A number of years ago a pair of Victoria crowned pigeons were selling for between $5,000 to $7,500, but it is rare to find any available birds. Collectors are fortunate if their pair or two even raise one youngster.
During World War II, our young men and women fighting in Asia regularly dined on Victoria crowned pigeons. Several years ago a veteran of World War II told me that while in New Guinea he saw many pigeons. He also told me that his troops used the birds as food to relieve the monotony of army rations. He had no idea how expensive these birds had become.
Breeding The Victoria Crowned Pigeon
Zoos are reluctant to part with surplus birds, because this species is not very prolific. They lay only one egg, and many of this nation's captive population are old and inbred. This species nests in low brush and many times on the ground in dense growth. Incubation by both parents takes 30 days. The squab fledges at a month of age and can fly. Both parents continue to feed the squab until it is weaned between 3 to 5 months old. In captivity, parents become aggressive toward other animals that they perceive as a threat to their young.
Courtship And Voice Of The Victoria Crowned Pigeon
The calling of the male to the hen can only be described as a series of prolonged "moos," similar to someone blowing across an empty, wide-mouthed bottle. The courtship and display is somewhat like a "booming boom-pa." The adult male, in true pigeon fashion, bows up and down. The tail movement is similar to other pigeons. Both adults nod to each other and "billing" occurs, typical of all pigeons. The male feeds the hen before copulation occurs.
Victoria Crowned Pigeon: Status In The Wild
The Victoria crowned pigeons find themselves in a shrinking environment. As New Guinea develops its resources of timber and minerals, there is less cover for these magnificent large pigeons. They are vulnerable and easy targets for hunters and poachers. Once an area is opened for logging, this species soon disappears. The Victoria crowned pigeon has no refuge, and its existence becomes precarious year by year. Human predation continues unabated. Predation from feral cats and dogs also takes a terrible toll on all native wildlife. Captive breeding by zoos and collectors are this species, and its related species, only hope for its to survival.
The Victoria crowned pigeon is the last of the truly large pigeons. The largest pigeon ever to exist was the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus). Due to man's carelessness, it is gone forever. Let's save the Victoria crowned pigeon from this fate.
References: Pigeons and Doves by David Gibbs, Eustace Barens and John Cox.